Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Yesterday I went to the Christian bookstore with a friend to get some resources for a summer Bible study we're doing. I used to love to go to the Christian bookstore, and I would get really excited about all the new titles. I'd feel really motivated and want to read every book. Now, I look around and feel a little more cynical and overwhelmed than excited and motivated.
It's not that there aren't great books out there. I wouldn't have been there if I didn't think there were books that would be beneficial to read. In fact, I am sure that there are books that I need to read. But experience has taught me that a lot of times, people read a book and get all excited about it. Maybe, after reading it, they'll temporarily change a thing or two about their lives. Sometimes people argue or get really emotional about what they've read. But eventually, it all fizzles out. The book goes on the shelf, and people go back to their normal lives, and a few years later, the book ends up in a box headed for Goodwill. This is not always the case. But I've seen this happen a couple of times over the past few years. In fact, I've recently given away one of those type of books.
So why do books that we get all excited about end up in the give-away pile? Am I missing something? Am I the problem? I certainly could be. The older I get the more certain I become that I am selfish to the core and without hope, except for Jesus. My sin nature affects everything, and I am not pure or good. I think I am being made pure, but I understand that work to be something that is completely outside of myself. So it could be me. It could be that I am overly critical and that frustrating experiences have made me overly cynical. But, I don't think that I'm the only one affected by this phenomena. Otherwise, the books we already have would suffice, wouldn't they? Would we continuously need more books with new messages and cool cover-art if they really were sufficient for our needs? If they were really the answer to how to "do church" or "live in community" or "live fearlessly" or "find financial freedom" or any number of things, then would someone need to keep writing another book on church, community, finances, relationships, etc? I really don't know. I understand the need to keep things updated. My computer reminds me of that almost daily. ;) But so many books come out all of the time. There are the biographies (which I really should read more of), the Christian how-to books that usually feature a larger than life picture of the famous author's face on the cover, looking very smiley and trustworthy- like they are saying "Follow me! I know how to lead you to your financial/self-esteem/marriage/parenting goal." Then there are the Christian romance novels, which usually have a cover drawing of a girl dressed up in some pioneer outfit, looking longingly off into the distance. And recently there are books with simple covers and one-word titles that appear very hip and modern and apparently challenge the way that Christianity has been done for decades. I'm not saying that any of these things are bad or wrong- in fact, I'm sure many of the books are great. But what I am saying is that I'm weary of putting my hope in a book, and weary of seeing other people do the same thing as a group.
I'm not denying the helpfulness of books. I'm reading two Christian books right now, and they are helpful. But really, they're only helpful in that they help me remain motivated to draw near to God, and read His Word for myself. Knowledge is good, but only in that it helps lead to good practice. The problem I've seen in my own life and in groups that I've been in is that we accumulate knowledge from whatever book we're reading and then we never really put it into good practice. For example, I'm a big proponent of understanding human nutrition. I took a nutrition course in college- two actually (one human and one animal) and it was great information. I would argue that everyone should know what I learned in my human nutrition course. But, that information is of no benefit to me or anyone else if not put into practice. I can know all about what I ought to feed my body but does it really matter unless I actually buy that food, prepare it and ingest it? I would say that the writers of most Christian books have in mind that they want to share some revelation that they've received from God or His Word. And that's cool. That's exactly what I do on this blog. But it doesn't really have much power- none beyond the encouragement that we can give to one another to fight the good fight. Their words have power to motivate, but not cause change because people are not powerful enough to achieve their desired purpose in another by their words. Only God's Word can actually cause change. When He speaks, His Words accomplish what He wants. He is the only One in the Universe who can make that claim, and He did in Isaiah 55:10-11. And that's why, after looking at so many of the books on the shelf at the Christian bookstore yesterday, I was not motivated to come back and read all of them. I was motivated to go home and open my Bible. Because when the author of the book speaks, he can motivate me. But when God speaks, He can change me. And I am for change.
I am also for books. I am for reading and sharing stories. But I am for realizing that those books cannot cause change in my life. They cannot draw me closer to God, help me recognize or repent of my sin, cannot give me patience, endurance or strength. They cannot bear fruit in me or anyone else. Thinking through this helps me not be so overwhelmed by all the titles and cool cover designs. Zondervan is still publishing a plain Jane leather book that has the only real power to generate change and bear fruit in people's lives. So as I read my Christian books this summer, I'm going to be thankful for what God has revealed to the author and thankful for the author's willingness to share, but I'm going to understand that the same thing that happened to the author is only going to happen in me as I spend time opening up my Bible, reading, and talking to God about what I've just read. And since I haven't yet done that today, I better get on it right now. ;-)
"As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." Isaiah 55:10-11